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Saturday, July 31, 2010
Updated: August 1, 4:06 PM ET
Haren finds little margin for error

By Mark Saxon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Now Dan Haren knows what it's like to pitch in Anaheim.

Sometimes, it's sluggish outfield defense. Sometimes, it's paltry run support.

On most nights, it's a difficult assignment to win a game from the pitching mound if you play for the Los Angeles Angels.

Haren, who was delighted to be traded from the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks a week ago, couldn't have done much more Saturday night to help steer his new team back into contention. He pitched all nine innings. He worked fast. He threw strikes. He got a ton of ground balls. He struck guys out in big spots.

Dan Haren
Dan Haren pitched a complete game but still didn't get a victory over the Rangers.

But Haren made one mistake, which really wasn't a mistake. It was a fastball about ankle high to Vladimir Guerrero and it went sailing deep into the night, all the Texas Rangers needed to get away with a 2-1 win, their sixth one-run victory over the Angels this year. These days, Angels pitchers walk a tightrope that's swaying and bobbing in the wind.

After his dominance of the Rangers, Haren had to do something Jered Weaver has turned into an art form this year. He had to stand in front of reporters and dissect his performance, searching with tweezers for every flaw. In Haren's case, it was a ball that wasn't enough of a ball to one of the best slop hitters the game has ever known.

Here's who we're talking about: In Guerrero's final at-bat, in the ninth inning, he swung at a pitch that was about to bounce and hit a hard chopper to the third baseman.

"I felt better about this one than the last one, but it was a big game and I lost," Haren said. "I felt good out there and I'm happy with the way I threw, but they were just a little better. I just wish I could have that pitch back."

He could try to get it back, but it would be a long walk. If Guerrero's All-Star appearance didn't make the Angels realize they messed up by not bringing him back, maybe the five home runs he's hit against them this year will. Guerrero is having the worst month of his career, but he interrupted it long enough to knock the Angels onto the verge of irrelevance.

It's fun to do this periodically: Guerrero is batting .305 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs. Hideki Matsui is batting .251 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs. Saturday's loss had a numerical significance, as well. It pushed the Angels nine games back in the American League West. They have only eight games left with the Rangers.

"This was a good opportunity for us. We got good starting pitching and defense," catcher Mike Napoli said. "We've got to get out there tomorrow and try to win the series."

The Angels have lost to Rich Harden plenty of times, but not this way. When he was in Oakland -- and a teammate of Haren's -- Harden had one of the most explosive fastballs in the game. Saturday he rarely cracked 91 mph, but he pounded the strike zone and the Angels' hitters, once again, looked as if they had no plan. They hacked away, to little effect.

Torii Hunter's slump has blended in nicely with the rest of the middle of the Angels' order. At one point, Matsui struck out on a 91 mph fastball to strand a runner at second. If not for Howie Kendrick's solo home run in the seventh, the Angels would have had virtually nothing going.

The last thing Angels manager Mike Scioscia is going to do is stick this funk -- seven losses in the past nine games -- on Hunter, his team MVP.

"Yeah, he hasn't had hits fall in like he has, but if your lineup is deep enough, you absorb the guys who are struggling a little bit," Scioscia said.

These days, the Angels aren't absorbing much other than losses.

Scene and heard

Hunter has let it be known he'd like to be a general manager one day, so naturally reporters surrounded him for his thoughts on Saturday's trade deadline, which passed without the Angels making additional moves.

Hunter said he hadn't paid much attention, because he was watching a movie Saturday.

"I can't remember the name. Something with 50 Cent in it," Hunter said. "It was terrible, Charles Barkley terrible."

Hunter said he understood why the Angels wouldn't make a move, but said he wouldn't have been surprised if they did.

"You never know what the Angels will do. They're like ninjas," Hunter said. "They come in the night."

By the numbers

15 -- Number of at-bats without a hit for Hunter on this homestand.

Quote of the day

"Those guys have the heart of a champion. We're growing one." -- Rangers manager Ron Washington on the Angels.

Looking ahead

Weaver (9-7, 3.19 ERA) is trying to become the first Angels pitcher in club history to begin his career with five straight 10-plus win seasons. It hasn't been easy. Weaver's outfield defense and bullpen have let him down at times and he has been matched up with opponents' aces virtually every start.

That trend continues Sunday, as the Angels must contend with Cliff Lee (9-4, 2.40), who picked up his first Texas win against them in Arlington last weekend.

So far, Weaver has been matched against Lee (twice), Felix Hernandez (three times), John Lackey, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, David Price and Chris Carpenter.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.